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The end of an era usually calls for reflection. While Game of Thrones fans are waiting anxiously for the final season to arrive, the cast of the hit series are nearing the end of their time as GoT stars. Emilia Clarke, who plays Daenerys Targaryen on the hit HBO show, took a moment to reflect on her own GOT journey and revealed that she suffered two life-threatening brain aneurysms while shooting GOT.
In a personal essay she wrote for The New Yorker, Clarke recounted the first time the brain aneurysm happened. “On the morning of February 11, 2011, I was getting dressed in the locker room of a gym in Crouch End, North London, when I started to feel a bad headache coming on. I was so fatigued that I could barely put on my sneakers. When I started my workout, I had to force myself through the first few exercises,” she recalled. Clarke couldn’t complete her workout and “crawled” her way to the locker room where the pain felt like”an elastic band were squeezing my brain” at first before it intensified to “shooting, stabbing, constricting pain.”
As Clarke grew weak, a woman came into the locker room and positioned the actress in the recovery position until the EMS workers whisked her away to a hospital. After getting an MRI, Clarke was told she suffered a “a subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH), a life-threatening type of stroke, caused by bleeding into the space surrounding the brain.” A “minimally invasive” brain surgery was the next step and it was a success. Then, it was back to work.
But in 2013, while playing Holly Golightly on Broadway, Clarke suffered another aneurysm and knew this time wouldn’t be as easy as the first.
“While I was still in New York for the play, with five days left on my sag insurance, I went in for a brain scan—something I now had to do regularly. The growth on the other side of my brain had doubled in size, and the doctor said we should “take care of it.” I was promised a relatively simple operation, easier than last time,” she remembered. However, when she woke up from the procedure, she was “screaming in pain.”
She continued, “The procedure had failed. I had a massive bleed and the doctors made it plain that my chances of surviving were precarious if they didn’t operate again. This time they needed to access my brain in the old-fashioned way—through my skull. And the operation had to happen immediately.”
The recovery process wasn’t an easy road for Clarke, who described the pain as “more gruesome than any that Daenerys experienced,” and she admitted she felt hopeless. She continued to power through, though, and attended Comic Con with her GOT cast mates where a familiar sharp pain came back.
“I thought, This is it. My time is up; I’ve cheated death twice and now he’s coming to claim me,” she said before doing an interview with an MTV reporter despite telling her publicist she was in pain. “But I survived. I survived MTV and so much more. In the years since my second surgery I have healed beyond my most unreasonable hopes. I am now at a hundred per cent.” Turning her pain into purpose, Clarke launched her own organization, SameYou, “to help young adults become themselves again after brain injury and stroke.”